About a week ago, I informed R that I wanted to get a bouncy seat for the baby. In my head, the getting of things for the baby has taken on an edge of urgency and R, without any other plans and a surprising fondness for buying things for the baby himself, willingly drove us off towards the nearest major secondhand store with a large baby section.
We had been there before and this chain is known for its high-quality products, so we were both very confident that we would find something suitable. Sure enough, we arrived to find at least as many bouncy seats on display as there are at our local firsthand baby store and a lot of them cost less than 2000 yen. R scanned them for a matter of seconds and then turned to me. “Which one do you want?” he asked.
I stared at him. “I don’t know yet!” I exclaimed. When shopping and greeted with a large variety of a type of thing to choose from without a particular idea of which one I want, I frequently become an indecisive mess and trying to buy a startling amount of things for a whole new person is bringing out the worst of this. Still, R’s expectation of an instant decision was a bit much. “Let me look at them first!”
In contrast to me, the need to plough through a whole list of things is bringing out R’s sometimes annoyingly decisive streak. Instead of waiting for me to eventually make up my mind and/or at least offer some options, he took a few steps, stopped, and grabbed the bouncy seat pictured. “I like this one,” he declared.
I could see why he liked it. It was soft, supportive, and just plain cute. It had a rattle dangling from it that could be a bear or, far more aptly, could be a monkey. To top it off, R misread “Little Daisy” for “Little Dizzy” and thought that was particularly amusing.
There were a few issues, though. It was all too fast, for one. I hadn’t had a chance to look at anything else at that point in any great detail. Most of the others seemed to have at least three toys dangling from them, and I had just been reading about how high-contrast is better for newborns.
And… “You know he’s probably a boy, right?” I offered awkwardly. I think we’re now at five ultrasounds where my ob/gyn, Dr. I., has cheerfully pointed out the quite clear evidence of this. “And it’s… pink…”
R stared at me. “I don’t care about that sort of thing!” he exclaimed.
It was my turn to stare at him incredulously. It was R, not very long ago, who was fussing about what would happen if the baby monkey turned out to be gay or took a liking to skirts, while it was me who had been objecting that this didn’t matter. I hadn’t thought my points had done a whole lot to sway him yet here he was, ready to buy a very pink bouncy seat for our son and it was me who was suddenly disconcerted.
The extent to which baby things, clothes in particular, are gendered has shocked me. Even when the the items are mixed together at the shops, certain colours and themes are obvious. Blue is for boys, pink is for girls, and you can go with shades of yellow, beige or white if you’re not sure. As well as colour themes, there are arbitrary groupings of particular things by gender. Flowers are for girls, transport is for boys. Birds and cute zoo animals can be found for both but dogs are on boy items and, much to my disappointment, someone, somewhere, has decided cats are for girls.
I knew that such absurd distinctions permeate everything through childhood, that the lines just solidify more and more until we end up the adults that we are. I knew it all had to start somewhere, but I hadn’t quite wrapped my head around the idea that it could begin before the baby had even exited my uterus until I was standing in the aisles of baby shops and seeing it all in front of me. There was no reason for me to expect anything better but still, I’ve been disappointed by it.
On a conscious level, I know that these distinctions are silly and they do nothing to help the relations between the genders, to help us accept people as individuals rather than as a particular set of genitalia. Really. I know this. I want to overcome it, not just for myself but for this baby and any others I might have, to declare that all the colours are fine for everyone and girls can like trains and boys can like cats or we can think both are pretty damn cool.
But how do I do that when, despite myself, I’ve still got these ideas about gender thoroughly internalised? I may have been arguing so far that it doesn’t matter if our baby turns out to be anything other than a straight, cis-gender male yet here I am, struggling. When faced with the overwhelming amount of baby goods available, I’ve done little other than settle for the path of least resistance, buying products suitably blue in colour for boys and straying only as far as the “neutral” yellows and whites. Automatically, I ignore the pink things out there because, while I might be aware that it is a silly cultural construct, I still automatically decide pink is for girls.
I justify my discomfort to myself – our families won’t understand, I really just want my baby’s life to be as easy as possible and being mixed race in this so very homogeneous society is already going to make him enough of a target without trying to work outside the gender boxes, I can’t make up my mind anyway and look, we’ll eventually find something with cats on it that isn’t sparkly and pink-ribbon laden because why the hell do baby clothes have gemstones on them anyway, that’s just silly…
But these excuses are ridiculous as well (except for the gemstones and ribbons thing – you don’t have to know all that much about babies to know they’ll chew on anything and that small decorations are just a plain bad idea). Our families can make sense of our choices however they want. Me being indecisive isn’t helping anyone with anything. Even the bullying matter is a weak excuse because hell, kids will find reasons to bully other kids no matter what.
“You know what?” I said to R. “It doesn’t matter, I agree. You’re right. Let’s get that bouncy seat.”
And maybe it really is that simple and it just doesn’t matter. While some people grow up remembering far too much about their lives as infants, most don’t. Chances are, he isn’t going to remember much about his time spent bouncing around in a pink, 45 degree seat while his mother and father do whatever else they need to do. It’s a chair, a place to put him down. It doesn’t need to be an existential crisis.
But if it does matter, to whatever small extent it does, maybe it can be in a good way, a tiny, baby step to overcoming the rigid gendered boxes we get put in.